On 15 May 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations approved the establishment of a committee of eleven to investigate the Palestine question, to make proposals for a settlement, and to report back by September. None of the big powers was represented on this committee, which entered history under the name of UNSCOP. It consisted of delegates from Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, India, The Netherlands, Persia, Uruguay and Yugoslavia. Its chairman was Judge Sandstrom, a Swede, with Ralph Bunche representing the U.N.
UNSCOP heard witnesses for three and a half months in America, Europe and Palestine, and toured DP (displaced persons) camps and Arab and Jewish cities and rural settlements. Among the Zionist representatives the most effective was again Chaim Weizmann, appearing for once in an unofficial capacity. The committee was given a brief lecture on the nature of anti-Semitism: what are Poles? What are Frenchmen? The answer is obvious, Weizmann said, but if one asks who is a Jew, lengthy explanations are necessary, and these are always suspect. Why did the Jews insist so stubbornly on Palestine rather than some other country? It was no doubt the responsibility of Moses who had taken them to Palestine. Instead of the Jordan, they might have had the Mississippi: "But he chose to stop here. We are an ancient people with a long history and you cannot deny your history and begin afresh."
When asked about the prospects of binationalism, Moshe Shertok made the point that willingness to work together was the prerequisite for the existence of a binational state, but unfortunately it did not exist. A Jewish state was needed because Palestinian Jewry had come of age, to save the remnant of European Jewry, and to ensure the future of the Jewish people. Questioned by Sandstrom, Ben-Gurion said that he foresaw the settlement of the first million Jews in a Jewish state in the shortest possible time - three to four years. In the period of transition he envisaged a régime of diarchy with the mandatory power, as in India. Ben-Gurion rejected the idea of parity, which would result in permanent deadlock on all vital issues such as immigration. Instead of an Arab-Jewish federation, he proposed a confederation of states.
As the members of UNSCOP came to grasp the complexity of the situation, two opposed views emerged: India, Iran and Yugoslavia favored federation, not altogether dissimilar to the Morrison-Grady plan. There was to be common citizenship, and a federal authority controlling foreign policy, national defense, immigration and most economic activities. During the transitional period, which was to last for three years, the administration was to be conducted by an authority appointed by the United Nations.
The UNSCOP majority came out in favor of partition, but recommended at the same time economic union, without which they believed the proposed Arab state would not be viable. All members of the commission agreed that the transitional period should be as short as possible. There was also a consensus on keeping the Holy Places accessible to all, and there was an appeal to Arabs and Jews to refrain from acts of violence. But on matters of political substance, no common denominator could be found to reconcile the majority and minority views, and consequently there were two separate reports.
The UNSCOP findings were published on 31 August 1947. Both the majority and the minority reports had been drawn up by the same man - Dr. Ralph Bunche. The majority plan envisaged a Jewish state and an Arab state (both of which were to come into being by September 1949), with the city of Jerusalem remaining under international trusteeship. The Jewish state was to consist of three sections: upper Galilee and the Jordan and Beisan valleys; the coastal plain from a point south of Acre to a point north of Isdud, including the city of Jaffa and most of the Valley of Esdraelon; and lastly, most of the Negev. The Arab state was to include western Galilee, most of the West Bank down to and including Lydda, and the Gaza Strip, from the Egyptian border to a point some twenty miles south of Tel Aviv.
The Zionist leaders had fought very hard throughout the UNSCOP hearings for the inclusion of western Galilee and the Negev in the Jewish state, so as to have at their disposal sparsely populated areas for future development. They failed as far as western Galilee was concerned, and the fate of the Negev was uncertain, for when the UNSCOP majority plan came to the vote later that year, the American delegation wanted the Negev to be assigned to the Arabs to make the scheme more palatable to them. Weizmann went to see a most reluctant President Truman to prevent any change in the proposed borders.
The minority report was rejected without further ado by the Zionists. On the majority report counsels were divided. While abstaining from the vote on partition in Paris a year earlier, Ben-Gurion had clearly retreated from Biltmore. In a letter to Weizmann of October 1946 he had said that "we should be ready for an enlightened compromise even if it gives us less in practice than we have right to in theory, but only as long as what is granted to us is really in our hands." Rabbi Silver said that the boundaries as drawn by UNSCOP were a great blow and had to be fought. But after this initial negative reaction Silver, too, retreated, having realized that the majority report was the maximum the Zionists could possibly hope for. He understood that the commandment of the hour was not to press for more, which was unrealistic, but to work for acceptance of the report by the United Nations.
The prospects were by no means rosy: Britain was clearly opposed to partition, so were the Arab countries and most of the Asian nations. As the views of the rest were not at all clear, the American position was likely to be a factor of paramount importance. In Washington the State Department (General Marshall, Dean Acheson, Robert Lovett, Loy Henderson) was clearly against a Jewish state, as was Forrestal, the secretary of defense. Truman wrote in his diary that the nation's military leaders were primarily concerned about Middle East oil and, in long-range terms, about the danger that the Arabs, antagonized by western action in Palestine, would make common cause with Russia.
These were weighty arguments and were pressed home with immense concern by Forrestal and others. Forrestal argued that the failure to go along with the Zionists might lose the Democrats the states of New York and California. But was it not high time to consider whether giving in to Jewish pressure "might not lose the United States"? Since the Soviet Union was a cosponsor of partition, and since Forrestal could not have foreseen the switch in the Soviet position, his anxiety was exaggerated. Since the West was the only major market for Arab oil, there was no reason to fear that the Arabs would try to boycott their best customers.
Subsequent developments seem to have partly justified Forrestal's warnings, for Palestine was no doubt one of the main issues as the radical Arab countries moved to a position hostile to the United States. However, the evidence is by no means conclusive. Similar processes took place all over the Third World, with the exception of a few countries directly threatened by the Soviet Union. King Farouk may have lasted a few more years but for the emergence of a Jewish state, but there is little doubt that political and social change sprang from indigenous conditions in the Nile Valley. On the other hand, it could be argued that but for the existence of Israel, serving as a lightning conductor, the "moderates" would have been overthrown by the "radicals" everywhere, or that in the absence of a common enemy the Arab world would have fallen into a state of anarchy. All this, of course, is highly speculative; no one can say what might have happened but for the emergence of the State of Israel.
A hesitating President Truman gave his assent to the partition scheme on 9 October 1947. He faced considerable opposition within his administration, and the strident tone of American Zionist propaganda and the pressure constantly brought on him had antagonized him. Nevertheless, he seems to have given instructions in November to give assistance to the Zionist representatives in New York who were trying hard to gain the necessary majority for the UNSCOP report. There were delays and it was not certain up to the last moment whether the motion would succeed. The vote was taken on Saturday, 29 November, and the motion carried by thirty-three to thirteen. Among those against were the Arab and some Asian states as well as Greece and Cuba. Among those who abstained were Argentina, Chile, China, Ethiopia, Britain, Yugoslavia and several South American republics.
There were celebrations that day in New York, in Palestine, and wherever Jews lived. Traffic stopped in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as people danced in the streets until the early hours of the morning. The decision imposed heavy responsibility on the Yishuv (Jewish community) and the entire Jewish people, Ben-Gurion said in an interview. "After a darkness of two thousand years the dawn of redemption has broken," declared Isaac Herzog, the chief rabbi. "It looks like trouble," said Dr. Magnes who for many years had fought valiantly and vainly for a binational state.
The next morning the Palestinian Arabs called a three-day protest strike, and Jews in all parts of the country were attacked. On that first day of rioting seven were killed and more injured; the fighting continued to the end of the mandate. The next months, as chaos engulfed Palestine, were a time of crisis for the Jewish community. Britain announced that it would leave the country by 16 May 1948, but the administration made no preparations to transfer power to Jews and Arabs, nor indeed to the Committee of Five which had been appointed by the U.N. to administer Jerusalem. The most pressing task facing the Jewish population was to strengthen its defenses, since the Arab countries had already announced that their armies would enter the country as soon as the British left. Syria was not willing to wait that long: an "Arab Liberation Army" inside Palestine was established in February with the help of Syrian officers as well as irregulars.
Hagana was by no means as well equipped and trained a fighting detachment as was commonly believed. Its forces and equipment were sufficient to cope with a civil war, but they seemed inadequate to defend the Yishuv against regular armies. While Britain continued to supply arms to the neighboring Arab countries, and America had declared a general arms embargo, the Jewish forces had great difficulty in obtaining supplies. By February the Arab forces were on the offensive throughout the country. While they did not succeed in capturing Jewish settlements, they all but paralyzed the traffic among them, and even Jerusalem was about to become a besieged city. The Jewish relief forces sent to the help of the Etzion settlements had been wiped out to the last man, a terrible loss by the standards of those days.
At the U.N. The Palestine Commission reported despairingly that nothing could be done before the end of the mandate. They could not demarcate the frontiers or set up a provisional government in the Arab state, and this would prevent economic union, and jeopardize the Jewish state and the international régime for Jerusalem. The British announced that they could not support the U.N. resolution because it committed the Security Council to carrying out the partition scheme or giving guidance to the Palestine Commission. Palestine sterling holdings in London were blocked and the country expelled from the sterling bloc. It seemed as if London was determined to wreck whatever chances remained for an orderly and peaceful handover. Perhaps it wanted to demonstrate that the Palestinian problem was intractable and that, where Britain had failed, no one else could succeed.
As events in Palestine took a turn for the worse, as far as Jewish interests were concerned, the resolve of the United States to support partition, never very strong, was further weakened. Senator Austin, telling the Security Council on 24 February that his country was not really bound by the recommendation of the General Assembly, prepared the way for retreat. On 18 March he formally declared that since the partition plan could not be put into effect peacefully, the attempt to implement it should be discontinued and a temporary trusteeship established by the U.N. Only a day before this announcement, Truman had assured Weizmann that the United States was in favor of partition and would stick to this policy.
The shift in the American position was not apparently the result of a carefully thought out political line; it simply reflected the drift, the lack of resolution and coordination in the American capital and the conflicting views within the administration. The trusteeship proposals were unrealistic, for if the U.N. had no authority to send a police force to supervise partition, who was going to enforce trusteeship? But events in Palestine had their momentum, and the country was moving towards partition. In April Truman informed Weizmann that there would be no change in the long-term policy of the United States. If partition was not reversed in the General Assembly, and if after 15 May a Jewish state came into being, Washington would recognize it.
During March and April the military situation in Palestine suddenly improved for the Jews. It was still doubtful whether Hagana would be able to withstand the attack of Arab regular armies, but the main Arab guerrilla forces near Jerusalem and Haifa were routed. Fighting became more intense and savage, as acts of reprisal followed one another. On 8 April, most of the inhabitants of the Arab village of Deir Yassin on the outskirts of Jerusalem, 254 in number, were killed by a combined IZL-Sternist force. Three days later, a Jewish medical convoy on its way to the Hadassa[h] hospital on Mount Scopus was ambushed in the streets of Jerusalem with the loss of seventy-nine doctors, nurses and students. A British force stationed two hundred yards away did not intervene.
As the armed struggle became more bitter, the Jews were fighting with their backs to the wall, whereas the Arabs could take refuge in neighboring countries. By the end of April, about 15,000 Arabs had left Palestine. What impelled them to do so has been debated ever since. The Arabs claim that the Jews, by massacres and threats of massacre, forced them out and that this was part of a systematic policy. The Jews asserted that the Palestinian Arabs followed the call of their leaders, believing they would soon return in the wake of victorious Arab armies.
As the end of the mandate drew nearer, the Jewish organizations prepared for the establishment of the state. Manpower was mobilized, emergency loans floated; the name of the new state, its constitution, flag, emblem, the seat of government were discussed, and there were hundreds of other questions to be decided. In reply to Washington's trusteeship proposal, the Jewish Agency executive resolved on 23 March 1948 that immediately after the end of the mandate a Jewish government would take over. The Jewish Agency (at its meeting of 30 March) and the Zionist Council (on 6-12 April) decided on the establishment of a provisional government to be called Minhelet Ha'am (National Administration) and a provisional parliament, Moezet Ha'am (National Council). On 20 April, these terms were first used in the Palestinian press. The new government was to consist of thirteen members and the council of thirty-seven; they were to be located for the time being in the Tel Aviv area. Thus the era of Zionist institutions in the history of Palestine came to an end.
The mandate was due to end at midnight, 14 May, but the new Jewish administration began to function several weeks earlier. The blue and white flag was hoisted on public buildings in Tel Aviv, new stamps were issued, the taxation services reorganized. (One of the main problems facing the new administration was to find a sufficient number of Hebrew typewriters.) Meanwhile in New York and Washington the Americans and the U.N. went through the motions of establishing a caretaker commission as zero hour approached. But a report from the Consular Truce Commission in Jerusalem announced that partition in the capital was already a fact. Officials in Washington thought that the chances that the Jewish state, if proclaimed, would survive, were not very good. Moshe Shertok was warned by General Marshall, the secretary of state, that if the Jewish state was attacked it should not count on American military help. There were suggestions by Dean Rusk and others that the proclamation of the state should be postponed for ten days, perhaps longer, and that meanwhile the truce should be restored.
Shertok arrived in Tel Aviv on 12 May, just in time for the session of the provisional government which was to decide on the proclamation of the state. He supported the proposal that a truce should be declared and that, while a government should be appointed at the end of the British mandate, the proclamation of the state should be delayed. But Ben-Gurion was not willing to budge. The motion was defeated by a vote of six to four, as, with a small minority, was the suggestion that the proclamation of the state should mention its borders as defined by the United Nations.
The State of Israel came into being at a meeting of the National Council at 4 p.m. on Friday, 15 May 1948 (Iyar 5, 5708), at the Tel Aviv Museum, Rothschild Boulevard. The Hatiqva was sung first, and then David Ben-Gurion read out the declaration of independence: "By virtue of the natural and historical right of the Jewish people and of the resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations we hereby proclaim the establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine to be called Israel." This took little more than fifteen minutes, after which the members of the council signed the document in alphabetical order. Rabbi Fishman pronounced Shehekheyanu, the traditional benediction (...that we lived to see this day...). The first decree adopted by the National Council as the supreme legislative authority was the retroactive annulment of the White Paper. The ceremony was over well before the Sabbath set in. Ben-Gurion said to one of his aides: "I feel no gaiety in me, only deep anxiety as on 29 November, when I was like a mourner at the feast." Half an hour after midnight the last British high commissioner left Haifa, and the following Sunday Dr. Weizmann was elected president of the new state.
The first country to recognize the new state was the United States. President Truman made a brief statement to that effect on Friday, shortly after 6 p.m. Washington time. Within the next few days the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, Uruguay and other countries followed. A cable was received by the chairman of the Security Council from the Egyptian foreign minister: the Egyptian army was crossing the borders of Palestine with the object of putting an end to the massacres raging there, and upholding the law and the principles recognized among the United Nations; military operations were directed not against the Palestinian Jew but only against the terrorist Zionist gangs. During Friday night, the invasion of Palestine began. On Saturday morning Tel Aviv's power station and Aqir airport were attacked from the air. It was the beginning of a series of wars which was not to end for many years.